Really, I tried to keep it to 25. For the last five years, I've enjoyed writing this Things You Didn't Know About Baseball column more than any, and it's always been that nice, clean number.
Forget nice and clean. There is so much great information available in baseball these days, limiting it to 25 would be wrong. So we settled on 32, because 32 is crooked and dirty, and more than that, there were 32 slices of must-read, will-enjoy, might-scratch-your-head information that we came across with the help of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference.com, Ari Kaplan at Ariball, Dan Brooks and Harry Pavlidis at BrooksBaseball.net and Rafe Anderson of TruMedia Networks.
I am but their messenger. So onto the good stuff.
1. Matt Holliday's OPS on 3-1 counts this year is 4.200. Yes, that is possible. Holliday has had 29 plate appearances end after a three-ball, one-strike count this season. In 24, he walked. In the other five that he swung, he has three home runs and two doubles for a 1.000 on-base percentage and 3.200 slugging percentage. His walk rate of 82.8 percent is the best of any hitter in 3-1 counts.
Here are the best and worst OPS on every count:
Eric Young Jr.
2. Perhaps you noticed the other outlier is Mike Trout's 2.571 OPS on 2-0 pitches. That is with good reason. On two-ball, no-strike pitches put into play, Trout is batting .929 (13 for 14). Another sign that Trout 2.0 is even better than Trout 1.0: In his rookie year, he hit a mere .278 (5 for 18) on 2-0 counts.
2a. Here is the part where we acknowledge that, yes, many of these are extremely small sample sizes and say little to nothing about a player's skills or his long-term prognosis and fine print, fine print, blah-blah-blah. This is supposed to be fun. Please take it as such.
3. Lest we be accused of excessive Trout fanboydom, here are six things you didn't know about Miguel Cabrera:
• He is far and away the best dead-red hitter in the game. On middle-middle pitches, Cabrera is 36 for 59 (.610) with a 1.305 slugging percentage. The next-best OPS to his 1.905 is 450 points behind him.
• He has hit nine home runs on balls out of the strike zone. The next best is six.
• With the bases empty, his OPS is .961. With a runner on first, it's 1.166. With a runner on second, it's 1.325. With a runner on third, it's 1.529. With two on, it's 1.208. With the bases loaded, it's 1.371.
• Fourteen of his 43 home runs have come on first pitches. Eleven were in the strike zone. When he swings 0-0, Cabrera's OPS is 1.512. So start him off with a ball, right? After a 1-0 count, Cabrera's OPS is 1.263. The lesson: Pitchers are damned if they do, damned if they don't.
• On balls hit to the opposite field this season, Cabrera is hitting .492 and slugging .915. The only player with a better OPS is Chris Davis – of course – at 1.509.
• His Kryptonite is pitches on the outer-third of the plate. While Cabrera hits .394/.450/.750 against pitches inside and over the middle, he whiffs on 34.2 percent of swings on outside pitches. Granted, compared to, say, Chris Carter (48 percent) or Mark Trumbo (47.7 percent), that's nothing, but it does rank 18th worst of 146 qualified hitters. Just one of Cabrera's nine home runs not in the zone came on an outside pitch.
4. Contenders for the Vladimir Guerrero Award, given to the player who turned the worst pitch into a hit, include:
• The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo swinging at a Stephen Strasburg fastball more than 4½ feet off the ground and somehow grounding it into center field. Not many hitters can get around on a neck-high Strasburg fastball.
• The Brewers' Jean Segura legging out an infield single off Joakim Soria on a pitch that was 1 inch off the ground.
• The Angels' Erick Aybar reaching 13½ inches outside to poke an Erik Bedard pitch into right field.
• Cabrera yanking in his hands and doing this to a Phil Hughes fastball that was 10½ inches off the inside corner.
The amazing Joey Votto couldn't repeat his absurd 2010 season, in which he did not pop out the entire year. Instead, the slacker has popped out once, according to FanGraphs, like he did in 2011 and 2012. The Cincinnati first baseman has 12 pop outs in his 3,117-at-bat career. This season alone, 61 players have popped out more times than Votto has over the last seven years. There are all sorts of theories behind why he doesn't pop out: superior bat control, incredible plate discipline, significant power. Ultimately, I'm going with the theory that baseballs have feelings, too, and they hate seeing this look on Joey Votto's face.
That wonderful slice of GIFness is courtesy of the great Jeff Sullivan, who wrote about what he called The Joey Votto Technicality. One problem with baseball's statistical revolution is the lack of a unified standard. Statistics are supposed to be hard, cold truths. Joey Votto's pop outs are not. Baseball Info Solutions, which provides FanGraphs with its stats, says Votto has popped out once. MLB.com, from which so much of the data we take as sacrosanct comes, says Votto has popped out three times. That 2011 season in which BIS said Votto popped out once – MLB.com had 13 pop outs. The difference? MLB.com includes any pop fly caught by an infielder, whether he's in foul ground or the outfield. The BIS data strictly interprets the idea of a pop out being a pop fly inside the lines and caught by an infielder.
This is not like Wins Above Replacement, where FanGraphs has one version, Baseball-Reference.com another and Baseball Prospectus another still. That's like three chefs cooking chicken parmigiana their own unique way. It may taste a little different, but ultimately they're all similar enough to resemble the same thing.
The pop-out issue speaks to modern statistics' fallibility when the same play can be two different things. A person from a large crew tracks each game for BIS. One man's line drive is another's fly ball. One person may mark a player out of his defensive zone when he catches a ball while another puts him in. Subjectivity is a wonderful thing. Just not in a baseball universe where all the best data is gathered objectively.
So take with a grain of salt that Howie Kendrick is the only player without a single pop out this season and that Andrelton Simmons leads baseball with 32 – which, for a league leader, isn't nearly as bad as it could be. Since BIS started tracking the data in 2002, the worst season is Eric Byrnes in 2007, with an inconceivable 65 pop outs.
6. Incidentally, Andrelton Simmons is having one of the greatest fielding seasons ever. And certainly one of the best since analysts started tracking defensive metrics. His 39 Defensive Runs Saved are the most from any position. His Ultimate Zone Rating of 24.4 is second among shortstops and 14th overall. And that means ... oh, hell, I still have no idea how UZR is calculated and DRS is fairly complicated (if a shortstop makes a play other shortstops make on average 33 percent of the time, he gets +.67; if he misses one made 82 percent of the time, he receives -.82; add up the pluses and minuses and that's his DRS).
That being said, the best and worst players at each position tend to dovetail with scouts' reports, so here are the champagne and Miller High Life of fielders by the best metrics publicly available.
Alejandro De Aza
7. Yes, Yankees utilityman Eduardo Nunez may be the worst shortstop since defensive metrics arrived about a decade ago. Three shortstops have worse DRS scores than Nunez's -26: '05 Michael Young (-32), '09 Orlando Cabrera (-29) and '07 Hanley Ramirez (-28). All three played more than 1,300 innings. Nunez has racked up his -26 in all of 581 1/3.
Nunez struggles worst with plays inside the shortstop zone. Of the 165 there this season, he has converted just 97 into outs. That's 58.8 percent. The previous low for a player with at least 500 innings was Yuniesky Betancourt at 70.6 percent. When anybody is worse than Yuniesky Betancourt at anything in the field, it is the greatest evidence yet that end of days is nigh.
If anything, UZR is Nunez's salvation. His is bad, sure, especially when extrapolated out to 150 games played. That brings it to -38.7, which is some kind of awful, except when compared to another brutal defensive shortstop in 2013, whose UZR/150 is -53.2. His name? Derek Jeter.
8. The two best defensive teams in baseball are Kansas City and Arizona. Scouts have raved about the Royals since the start of the season. The Diamondbacks benefit mostly from a well-above-average outfield (especially when A.J. Pollock and Gerardo Parra play together).
Only the '09 Mariners, '08 Rays and '08 Phillies have a UZR better than the Royals' 64.1. The Royals are third in DRS at +86, one spot behind the Diamondbacks, whose +93 trails only the '05 Phillies' +95.
Futility in 2013 belongs to the Seattle Mariners and the Seattle Mariners alone. Among the 330 teams since DRS started, the Mariners' -97 is 327th – and with a poor September, they could catch the 2005 Yankees' record -115. They're also No. 327 of 330 in UZR at -72.8.
9. Tigers rookie Bruce Rondon throws really, really, really hard. Just not the hardest ever.
Now, velocity is also one of those numbers that differentiates among the varying trackers. PITCHf/x has Rondon's average fastball at 97.9 mph. The wonderful BrooksBaseball.net, which tweaks the PITCHf/x data to make it more accurate and realistic, has him at 100.02 mph. And FanGraphs, which uses BIS velocity data, has him at 99.3 mph – a smidgen lower than Aroldis Chapman's record 2010 season at 99.6 mph.
No longer is Chapman the king. He's not even second. (That would be Dodgers rookie Jose Dominguez at 98.5 mph, about three-tenths of a mile per hour higher than Chapman.) Of Rondon's 291 fastballs this season tracked by BrooksBaseball, 147 have been 100-mph-plus. Chapman has by far the most pitches 100 mph or higher with 272, but that's among 852 fastballs. Rondon's 50.5 percent in triple digits dwarfs Chapman's 31.9 percent.
10. Matt Harvey's elbow kept him from overtaking Ubaldo Jimenez as the hardest-throwing starter for a whole season. In 2009 and 2010, Jimenez pumped his fastball an average of 96.1 mph. Harvey was threatening to exceed that, clocking in at 95.8 mph, and had his arm strength built up over the course of a season as it is wont to, he might have. Instead, lament the loss of such a luminescent talent and hope that by the time the 2015 season rolls around he's back to threatening that mark once again.
11. There have been 862 pitches of 100 mph or faster courtesy of 28 different pitchers this season, according to BrooksBaseball.net. Chapman and Rondon rank 1-2. The Royals' Kelvin Herrera is third with 127. Rounding out the top 10 are Trevor Rosenthal (69), Henry Rodriguez (50), Nate Jones (44), Fernando Rodney (22), Dominguez (20), Gerrit Cole (20) and Carlos Martinez (18). Other starters aside from Cole who have cracked 100: Harvey (13), Nate Eovaldi (11), Danny Salazar (eight), Justin Verlander (three), Andrew Cashner (three), Kevin Gausman (three), Jose Fernandez (two) and Wily Peralta (one).
12. Brad Ziegler does not throw fast. His 86.1-mph fastball is the slowest of any right-handed reliever in baseball. He makes a damn good living nonetheless as Diamondbacks closer by doing to groundballs what Pitocin does to women in labor. Ziegler better watch out. He has some competition for the groundballingest guy out there, and it's Cardinals rookie Seth Maness, who looks like your ordinary sinkerballer until you see he's practically a carbon copy of Ziegler.
13. In 1916, Walter Johnson threw 369 2/3 innings and did not allow a single home run. Taken in that context, Atlanta left-hander Luis Avilan's 2013 season – zero homers in 60 innings – looks like bupkis. Not in modern baseball. Since the turn of the century, only three pitchers have thrown more innings in a season without yielding a homer: Peter Moylan with 73 in 2009, Jim Johnson with 68 2/3 in 2008 and Jason Isringhausen with 65 1/3 in 2002.
Until he allowed a double and a run on Saturday, opponents were slugging just .194 against Avilan. It would've been the fifth-lowest mark among pitchers with at least 50 innings in history. His teammate Craig Kimbrel owns the record after limiting opponents to a .172 slugging percentage last season. This year, they're mauling him to the tune of .234.
14. Yu Darvish's slider is a big, mean bully. Darvish has generated the most swings and misses in baseball this season with 406. That's a little more than 15 a game, which is a lot, though not quite CC Sabathia's 2008 season, in which he induced 546 whiffs in 35 starts (15.6 per game).
Darvish's slider does most of the damage, and it does so on dumb swings. Of the 213 times a hitter has waved at a Darvish slider, 141 were on pitches out of the strike zone. The only other pitch with as many chases: A.J. Burnett's curveball, with 141 on just 178 swings and misses.
The biggest in-the-zone wind turbine? Shelby Miller's fastball, which has sizzled through the zone unscathed by moving bat 137 times.
15. Boilerplate time: I am no sabermetrician. I never will claim to be. The following numbers are strictly for amusement, not to claim any grand, sweeping truths.
We are about to delve into something called Pitch-Type Linear Weights. This is where FanGraphs assigns a win probability to every pitch a player sees or a pitcher throws. If a batter takes a ball on a fastball, his fastball score improves slightly. If he hits a home run off a curveball, his curveball score jumps. If he grounds into a double play on a slider, his slider score drops. Same for pitchers. Slider for a strike: good for the slider total. Fastball hammered for a triple: yikes for fastball.
There is a very good reason these numbers are seen by sabermetricians as total bunk: They are taken in a vacuum. They don't take into account fielding or pitch sequencing. They are strictly, simply what happens on each particular pitch, and thus they have next to no predictive value. This is how Tom Tango, the great sabermetrician, explained it to me last year:
"You can think of boxing if you like. Say you are in a brawl with someone, and you know your best hand is your right. Are you only going to use your right hand? You need some sort of balance, maybe 2:1 right:left, so that, in the end, at those frequencies, they are equally effective. If you did 1:2 right:left, then at those frequencies, it would be a disaster."
In other words, take these numbers for what they are: rock candy for the baseball mind. Make sure to brush your teeth after these: The best and worst players on each pitch, as shown by runs accounted for on each particular pitch.
16. Similarly, here are the best and worst pitchers on each particular pitch.
17. Among starters who qualify for the ERA title this season, CC Sabathia has the single worst fastball. We know Sabathia's velocity has cratered (with at least three years and $76 million left on his contract, and up to four years and $96 million if he avoids injury and his 2017 option vests). Just how hittable it's become is the shocking part. Sabathia's fastball never was his best pitch, not even when it ran on super unleaded instead of ethanol. This year, it's been worth -16.3 runs.
18. Nine starting pitchers have no apparent weaknesses. The starters with positive run values for all their pitches: Matt Harvey, Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor, Bartolo Colon, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Chris Sale and Justin Masterson.
Yes, the game's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, just missed. His fastball is +31.6, his curveball +12.0, his slider +7.0 and his changeup ... -0.8.
19. Six hitters have handled every type of pitch with a positive outcome: Mike Trout, Marlon Byrd, Michael Cuddyer, Domonic Brown, Jose Bautista and Hunter Pence.
Yes, the game's best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, just missed. His run value against the fastball is +38.2, cutter +8.0, changeup +6.1, slider +5.8, curveball +2.7, splitter +1.3 and knuckleball ... -0.5. Others to lose their shot at the first list because of the knuckleball: Ben Zobrist (-1.3), Adrian Beltre (-0.6), Evan Longoria (-0.5) and Daniel Nava (-0.2).
Damn you, R.A. Dickey.
20. Speaking of, the pitchers with all negative run values: R.A. Dickey, Edinson Volquez, Joe Saunders, Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Kendrick and Barry Zito, who deserves special mention for his across-the-board whammies: -8.5 slider, -8.4 curveball, -7.0 fastball and -4.4 changeup.
No hitters were terrible at everything. The closest? Darwin Barney, whose +1.0 against curveballs kept him from crushing infamy, and Erick Aybar, whose +2.5 against cutters did the same.
21. If there is one thing on this list you might know, it is that Bartolo Colon will throw more fastballs than anybody. Rather than limit it to starter, though, we opened up the who-throws-what-most-often contest to relievers, too.
22. The best curveball in the game may belong to someone who throws it all of 3.7 percent of the time. Angels right-hander Garrett Richards fires one of the hardest fastballs among starters, averaging 95 mph, but his 77.7-mph curveball is a true hammer. According to AriBall, Richards' curveball spins a major league-high 2,271 revolutions per minute and is almost a true 12-to-6 offering (it has 7 degrees of tilt). The major league average on curveballs is 1,403 rpm – and the pitcher with the lowest happens to be the one who throws a highest percentage of curveballs than anyone, Reds reliever Manny Parra, at just 350 rpm.
23. Cardinals closer Edward Mujica is throwing more strikes than anybody in a long time. Now, mind you, the data on strikes from Baseball-Reference.com goes back to only 2000. Still, Mujica's strike rate of 74.6 percent is a full percentage point higher than the next best this millennium. Of the 792 pitches he has thrown this year, 591 have been strikes – 30 percent in play, 29 percent fouled off, 22 percent looking and 19 percent swinging. The next best this season: Among relievers, Boston closer Koji Uehara (73.3 percent), and among starters, Cliff Lee (70.5 percent), of course.
24. Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, whose fastball averages 89.3 mph, might have the nastiest stuff in baseball. How so? In-the-strike-zone contact rate correlates well with players who are believed to have the best stuff. Ernesto Frieri's zone contract is 73.5 percent, the second best in the game, followed by Aroldis Chapman at 74.8 percent and Greg Holland at 75 percent. Uehara checks in at 70.2 percent – and that's a full 2 percent above his major league-leading rate last season, which was the second lowest ever. The record belongs to Brad Lidge, who in his amazing 2004 season saw only a 58.5 percent contact rate on pitches in the strike zone.
25. To hitters, Bronson Arroyo's curveball is practically indistinguishable from his other pitches for a reason: his release point. Arroyo lets his curve go .02" higher than the average point at which he releases his other pitches. Still, he doesn't have the smallest release-point circumference. That belongs to Red Sox rookie Allen Webster. The biggest variance in release point: veteran Aaron Harang.
26. Speaking of seeing pitches, who sees the most and fewest of each? All of these have good rationale behind them – Marco Scutaro sees the most fastballs because he doesn't swing and miss at others and Josh Hamilton the most curveballs because he does swing and miss at them – but there's one oddity.
Among hitters against cutters, Giants see the four lowest amounts and six of the bottom 12, which means either a) other NL West pitchers do not throw a whole lot of cutters or b) the PITCHf/x cameras in San Francisco need some fine tuning. The former may be true – NL West opponents rank 20th, 22nd, 23rd and 27th, according to FanGraphs – but that could also be skewed if the camera is catawampus.
27. Pedro Alvarez is a sucker for bad pitches. He has swung and missed 213 times on balls out of the strike zone among his league-leading 387 whiffs. Mike Napoli, on the other hand, is a sucker for good pitches. Nearly two-thirds of his 342 swings and misses have come on strikes – and that includes 113 in-the-zone fastballs.
28. It is not a good idea to give Mike Napoli a get-me-over fastball on a 3-0 count. Napoli has gotten the green light twice on 3-0 this year. He has been fed a meatball each of those times. And he is 2 for 2 with two home runs. Perhaps he should make a little more of such situations. The other 15 times he saw fastballs in the zone on 3-0 counts, he let them go for strikes.
Other green light mavens include Troy Tulowitzki (3 for 3 with two homers), Miguel Cabrera (1 for 1 with a homer and a major league-best 30 four-pitch walks) and Alex Gordon (2 for 2, including a home run). Apparently Manny Machado and his future brother-in-law Yonder Alonso should spend their offseasons in Miami hitting 3-0 pitches: They are 0 for 5 and 0 for 3, respectively.
29. If Chris Johnson wins the NL batting title this season, it's because he's had the best luck in 89 years. Currently Johnson's batting average on balls in play is .409. The last time a hitter's BABIP was higher than .409: Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby in 1924, at .422. In fact, of the nine previous hitters in history to post BABIPs of over .409, seven of them – Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Harry Heilmann, George Sisler, Nap Lajoie and Jesse Burkett – are in the Hall of Fame. The other two: George Stone, the proto-Chris Johnson with one insane season, and Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Granted, Johnson has always been a high-BABIP guy. And based on his peripherals – Johnson's 27 percent line-drive rate is sixth in baseball – his expected BABIP is somewhere in the .350 range. Still, that's a whole lot of luck involved to go an entire season over .400 – and something of an indictment that the rest of his numbers haven't been better.
The average batting average among the 26 previous times a .400-plus BABIP was reached: .389. Johnson at .330 would be the second lowest, ahead of Jose Hernandez, who somehow managed to hit .288 with a .404 BABIP. Maybe it had something to do with the 188 strikeouts.
30. Despite Dusty Baker's finest efforts to prove otherwise, the bunt – or at least the bunt for a hit – is on life support. In 2003, Alex Sanchez dropped 32 bunt hits. Two years later, Willy Taveras laid down 31. Even Carlos Gomez succeeded on 30 in 2008. The leader this year is Leonys Martin. He has 12.
31. Either Norichika Aoki scares fielders with his speed, the ball comes off his bat in a funky sort of way or his league-high groundball rate (61.3 percent) means players are bound to make more errors against him. Probably the latter, actually, but the first two sound better, so let's just say that when Aoki makes contact, a gyroball comes off his bat, and settle with that. Last season, Aoki led the major leagues by reaching on an error 12 times, and this year, his 10 times on base via error rank second to Andrelton Simmons' 11. Two more recurring names: Elvis Andrus (10 last year, eight this year) and Starlin Castro (eight last year, eight this year).
32. As always, we end with the duds of the year. Without further adieu, we present FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference's worst players of the year.
Congratulations to Blue Jays utilityman Maicer Izturis, whose 2013 ranks 13,376th of 13,385 offensive seasons since the turn of the millennium, according to FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement. Izturis has been worth -2.2 WAR, which is to say that he has lost Toronto two games more than a Triple-A scrub would. Oof.
Baseball-Reference isn't nearly as unkind to Izturis. It doesn't even credit him with one loss – he's at -0.9 – while White Sox utilityman Jeff Keppinger brings up the rear at -2.3.
Had his elbow ligament not blown, Jason Marquis may well have set the 2000s' record for negative pitching WAR from FanGraphs. Marquis was 8,887th of 8,891 pitchers with a cringe-worthy -1.5 WAR, despite a 9-5 record and respectable-enough 4.05 ERA. FanGraphs' WAR comes from Fielding Independent Pitching, which vomited at the sight of Marquis' walk rate (5.2 per nine) and home run rate (1.4 per nine).
Marquis is barely WAR negative in Baseball-Reference (-0.1), whereas Edinson Volquez and Barry Zito (-2.5 apiece) dovetail more with the traditional view on pitching, which goes something like this: "When the general manager who gave Barry Zito a $126 million contract wins two World Series in three seasons, it is proof that anybody who idolizes the baseball gods would be better off as an atheist."